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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

At Life and Legends

Issue two
Thank you to poet Jennifer Reeser for soliciting poems for Life and Legends. As I am a wee bit lazy about sending out, it is helpful to be asked. Here is a link to my poems in the issue, and a glimpse of the start of each:


Bird the color of rose,
  Sanguinary dove,


The Rain Doves at Birkenau

The little white house in a field,
The little red house in a field,


Something Like a Memory

You’re there, white tinged with blue like watered milk.
The ink seed planted in your brain in life


Not the Graham Ward piece I was dreaming
about, but it has much the same spirit,
suggestive of Eucharist and Sangréal. 
It's barely up, and a few things need to be tweaked by the tech mavens... The stanza lines in the first poem are not indented properly (should be staggered), and the last poem does have a title, so those things will be corrected. The photograph of me is by Paul Digby.


Notes, if you are so inclined:

The Rain Doves at Birkenau
Wikipedia, "Auschwitz concentration camp": The first gas chamber at Birkenau was the "red house" (called Bunker 1 by SS staff), a brick cottage converted into a gassing facility by tearing out the inside and bricking up the walls. It was operational by March 1942. A second brick cottage, the "white house" or Bunker 2, was converted some weeks later. These structures were in use for mass killings until early 1943.

The holy grail.
Here and here are some pieces about Graham Ward by Clive Hicks-Jenkins.

And you know, it's getting quite cold enough for this chilly poem, turned into a video by Paul Digby... Here's a belated addition to the post:

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Blues and resolves

Under the tree for Canadian artist Marja-Leena Rathje!
Love being on Christmas (or any time) wish lists...
It's the 6th day of Christmas, and I am feeling a wee bit, just a tad depressed. Maybe I need to spend less or more narrowly focused time on the internet because I am heartily sick of bumping into language focused on creative entrepreneurship for artists, on how every artist has to be a business person now, on art as "product," on sales and marketing, on attention-wresting hooks, on the leveling of taste in contemporary democracy, and so on. It packs my head with lint!

In that context, in that world, perhaps I am simply insane. I felt a call. Twelve books so far are my passionate answer to that call. I am devoted, obsessed, committed (another insane word), enraptured, and bound. Playing with language is my great joy and a very large part of what makes my life meaningful to me. Having readers complete the work by reading is splendiferous. (That said, my least favorite part of my life is the weariness of travel to promote books, though I love doing events if people turn out for them in good numbers.) Clearly I do not fit particularly well in the bright-and-shiny-and-brave new world of self-promotion, entrepreneurship, and business. Maybe that is what "insane" means for me, then...

And here's a copy at the house of nihongan
painter Makoto Fujimura. I'm wondering
about the book underneath--Conversations?
About form, it seems.
But who cares? I'm not going to stop, am I? Not at this late date, surely... And so here are my word-related resolutions for 2015: I will
  • Pick up extended work that has been sitting, almost finished, for years. Finish it! Particularly The Book of the Red King. Maybe cobble together another poetry manuscript out of the mountains of poems lying about in disorderly fashion. Maybe finish the book for young people, The Aerenghast Trilogy, which has been almost done for long eons of the sun and will be dedicated to my youngest child. He'll probably be of legal age before it's published!
  • Begin that secret, utterly enticing novel that is in my head.
  • Quit festering (as I don't normally do but did this year) and enjoy readers and friends in the arts more. (Thanks for the mail and tweets and messages, kind readers.) Go to lunch with painter and writer friends more often.
  • Make more effort to keep up with the friends in the arts elsewhere who are inspiring to me (and I to them, equally important, as tossing thoughts back and forth is fruitful.)
  • Get Catherwood into ebook form without using any of the kind publishers who have offered to do it for me.
  • Figure out the right amount of help that a book needs. Don't go nuts trying to get the word out about Maze of Blood next fall--it's a university press book, after all, not a mass-market paperback bestseller.
All right, now I must do that not-very-writerish but quite humanish thing and get back to cleaning house for my in-laws. (True blues source? Maybe. Still trying to reconcile truth, beauty, and housework.) And I must do it with a will and then have a merry 6th day of Christmas...

Friday, December 26, 2014

For the second day of Christmas: the river of culture

Yolanda Sharpe
Watercolor by a local friend--
soprano, painter, SUNY-Oneonta professor in studio art.
Blue, Red, and Yellow, 26 by 40 inches, watercolor on paper, 2014

And words by another friend--nihongan painter Makoto Fujimura, founder of International Arts Movement and The Fujimura Institute:

The words at left and below are
from Makoto Fujimura's Culture Care,
the lovely result of his Kickstarter campaign.
Available here.
An industrial map in the mid-twentieth century colored New York's Hudson River black. The mapmakers considered a black river a good thing--full of industry! The more factory outputs, the more progress. When that map was made, "nature" was widely seen as a resource to be exploited. Few people considered the consequences of careless disposal of industrial waste. The culture has shifted dramatically over the last fifty years. When I share this story today, most people shudder and ask how anyone could think of a polluted river as good.

But today we are doing the same thing with the river of culture. Think of the arts and other cultural enterprises as rivers that water the soil of culture. We are painting this cultural tier black--full of industry, dominated by commercial interests, careless of toxic byproducts--and there are still cultural mapmakers who claim that this is a good thing. The pollution makes it difficult for us to breathe, difficult for artists to create, difficult for any of us to see beauty through the murk.

It is widely recognized that our culture today is not life-giving. There is little room at the margins to make artistic endeavors sustainable. The wider ecosystem of art and culture has been decimated, leaving only homogeneous pockets of survivors, those fit enough to survive in a poisoned environment. In culture as in nature, a lack of diversity is a first sign of a distressed ecosystem.

Many of the streams that feed the river of culture are polluted, and the soil this river should be watering is thus parched and fragmented....

Yolanda Sharpe, Neighborhood, encaustic on panels
(center panel: 23 by 22.5 by 3 inches), 48 by 43.75, 2013

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Readings and thoughts for the first day of Christmas

"The Angel Door"
Here is a Christmas commission by a friend from college, artist
Mary Boxley Bullington. I suggest to those of you who love
and collect art that she is highly collectible and, indeed,
under-valued at this time. Her work is full of energy and beauty.
Click for a large version.

I heard this sung by Fr. Mark Michael last night, in a church that has for several centuries been a notable home to writers--novelist James Fenimore Cooper, nature writer Susan Cooper, poet W. W. Lord, essayist Fae Malania, children's author Paul Fenimore Cooper, and many more. It is one vision of things that have eternal life and power:
The Proclamation of Christmas

Today, the twenty-fifth day of December, unknown ages from the time when God created the heavens and the earth and then formed man and woman in his own image. Several thousand years after the flood, when God made the rainbow shine forth as a sign of the covenant. Twenty-one centuries from the time of Abraham and Sarah; thirteen centuries after Moses led the people of Israel out of Egypt. Eleven hundred years from the time of Ruth and the Judges; one thousand years from the anointing of David as king; in the sixty-fifth week according to the prophecy of Daniel. In the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad; the seven hundred and fifty-second year from the foundation of the city of Rome. The forty-second year of the reign of Octavian Augustus; the whole world being at peace, Jesus Christ, eternal God and Son of the eternal Father, desiring to sanctify the world by his most merciful coming, being conceived by the Holy Spirit, and nine months having passed since his conception, was born in Bethlehem of Judea of the Virgin Mary. Today is the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh.
And here is a clip from the discussion of another vision of immortality--cultural immortality--yoked to its debunking:

On the presumed immortality of fame as a cause of art and cultural significance.
Fame, according to Socrates, is therefore a form of reproduction. For those who can achieve it, it is far superior to the messy biological kind. Who, when he thinks of Homer and Hesiod and other great poets, would not rather have their children than ordinary human ones? Who would not emulate them in the creation of children such as theirs, which have preserved their memory and given them everlasting glory? Socrates is here expressing a fundamental belief of the Greeks: that acts of heroism or epic poems are not only nobler than mere sprogs, but also considerably more durable. Where living things fall like leaves in autumn, our cultural objects can endure. Kingdoms, titles and honour survive to be passed from one generation to the next; stories persist to be told by new generations of bards; bronze statues do not fall sick. Unlike human children, cultural offspring promise to be ‘everlasting’.  --Stephen Cave, Everlasting glory: There are few fantasies so absurd as the idea of living on through fame. So why does immortality still beckon?
Thoughts on literary immortality

Mary Boxley Bullington,
Winged Creatures,
Acrylic and mixed media collage on paper, 22" x 25"
December 2014
Some day the glacial lake some hundred yards from my door will vanish; some day a mountain may stand where it sank in earth. All things on Earth pass and change, as do we. 

Stephen Cave's vision of humanity's striving to be noble (or simply plain old famous for being famous, like a Kardashian) or make lasting art as an absurd quirk of biology and evolution is interesting, but in the end it means little to me. I do not write for glory or to have my name enrolled in stone. I write because it gives me joy, and because as I pursue something larger than myself, I also become larger than myself. What I am on the inside is then better and bigger than it was before. So I write to redeem the time and give a gift to a world in which I have sometimes been harmful or mere useless lumber--as we all are at times, more or less. 

In thinking so, I am far closer to the sentiments of a figure like the ignored, scorned, solitary artist of Hawthorne's "The Artist of the Beautiful," who creates the beautiful mechanical butterfly that flies with grace and natural motion but who also catches a "far other" butterfly--who becomes greater than he was before because he has participated in creation. The soul has long been compared, in art and words and on tombstones, to a butterfly. Like Hawthorne, the artist gives the creation of his heart and soul away, knowing it may be accounted a trifle, knowing it may be mocked. But he gives it freely in love.

Christmas wish

Experience sublime and beautiful things and be alchemically transformed to metaphysical gold, be in surpassing peace, love one another, be merry...

Butterflies on Mary Boxley Bullington's
cherry tree in Roanoke, Virginia.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Glimmerglass IRL

Art by Clive Hicks-Jenkins
Design by Mary-Frances Glover Burt
Mercer University Press, 2014
Various people have asked me about the "real Cooperstown things and people" behind Glimmerglass.  Here are a few:

  • The gatehouse on the Lake Road near the museums is the model for the house where Cynthia Sorrel lives. It does indeed have charming moldings sprinkled about the ceiling in the parlor. And yes, it has seven doors to the outside. When I was having lunch there long ago, I did see the waterline in the kitchen that marked flood height from the stream close by. 
  • The mansion is gone, but the fossil-peppered part of the fictional mansion's appearance was inspired by a local stonemason, who one day handed a wonderful fossil to my daughter as the children and I stood watching him lay a dry wall.
  • I was not thinking of any real-life people, though I confess that the two asexual figures--Theodore and Iz--were inspired by the idea of various old-fashioned Yankee families where the children never marry but live together always. My husband had four aunts and an uncle who lived this way all their lives. Traces of Fenimore Cooper appear here and there in the book. And I was once well and truly snubbed by someone from the Glimmerglass Opera, but the figure who snubs in the novel isn't modeled on that person--or, indeed, on any particular person. Cooperstown is the only place I've ever lived where snubbing actually happens, and I am afraid that I have found the experience of being emphatically snubbed (once by an opera employee, once by a woman who married a great ways "up") quite illuminating. Social layers and social snobberies are always fascinating for a storyteller.
  • The Opal Bone... That strange figure was inspired by the Tiffany angel window at Christ Church Cooperstown, with its brilliant eyes, opaline flesh, and bright string of leaves around its neck. And Christ Church itself makes a few cameo appearances. And Cynthia looks toward Cooper Park from the church and sees that it is snowing.
  • The frog pageants... Once upon a time, a rector at Christ Church and his wife had an inordinate number of elegant, leggy stuffed frogs. The pair often put on small froggy tableaux in the privacy of their home. During major renovation, they lived not in the rectory but in the gatehouse of the story.
  • Glimmerglass itself, or Otsego Lake, with the underwater hillock that Fenimore Cooper used in the Leatherstocking Tales as the site for Muskrat Castle... Glimmerglass is Cooper's name for the lake. Bits of worn brick and transfer wear wash up from its depths, to be picked up by the shower. I have lots of friends who sail. Our lake has a deep, gouged-out glacial bed, so of course we have a snaky monster, seldom glimpsed. I'm not sure why I was impelled to send characters under the lake, but in winter people bore holes in the ice and fish from shanties, so the idea of unlocking the ice and entering the watery world is congenial to the place.
  • Perhaps the labyrinths were suggested to mind by the tiny, leafy labyrinth at the Farmer's Museum, with a classical pillar at its heart. My children used to love to play in its mysteries. I do have a figure from the classical world in my labyrinth...
  • The village is awash in ghosts, many of whom are colorful and who live near me, though I have never seen one. Very sensible people I've know tell me that they have seen a ghost, so perhaps I will have a chance. I've never even seen the three children who dance in the parlor of our house.
  • We have two castles in the village, Kingfisher Tower in the edge of the lake and the stone Norman tower in the woods off Beaver Meadow Road. (Auto-correct wants to make that "Normal," but it's nothing like normal to have New World castles, is it?)
  • Etcetera...
And a very merry Christmas-to-be to you, 
whatever or whenever you celebrate in turn, for 
"'God bless us every one!' said Tiny Tim, the last of all."

Sunday, December 21, 2014


Clive Hicks-Jenkins, artist--his image
on the jacket, and this photo his!
Albany Times-Union review 
21 December 2014

Clip: "Readers of literary fantasy will welcome the novel "Glimmerglass," the 12th book by Cooperstown author Marly Youmans. It layers gothic romance, ghost tales and medieval dream visions into a coming-of-age story set in the village of Cooper Patent."

Marly at Tor

Clip from The Pop Quiz at the End of the Universe: Strangest thing you’ve learned while researching a book?
I live in a house built by a writer (Colonel Prentiss’s newspaper is still in print) in 1808. It’s a straightforward federal center-hall house, and it would appear to have few secrets. But if I dig in the garden, I find a Dutch pipe or a clay marble or shards of transfer-ware. Concealment shoes (meant to kick witches out of the house) were hidden in one of the chimneys. It’s the same way with peering back into time; surprise is everywhere. The main thing I’ve learned through historical research is that nothing is as they tell us in history books. Nothing is generalized, and everything is specific and strange and not at all simple because people are individuals and the rules for life change. When I was researching American slavery, I ended up reading about all sorts of oddities—the freedmen who owned slaves, the occasional white slave, peculiar punishments, holes in the ground for singing-into, etc. When reading Scots-Irish lore for two books set in the Carolina mountains, I was surprised by (and then used) beliefs having to do with witchmasters. Research is enticing because it steers in unexpected directions, yet also functions as a temptress who can lead a writer into the drear realm of info-dumps. But we don’t have to tell everything we know…

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The joy of lists....

Books and Culture Favorite Books of 2014

Thanks to Books and Culture and its wide-ranging reader, John Wilson, editor, for another spot on Books and Culture's annual Favorite Books list. I am grateful that John Wilson ranges so very widely that he discovered and read my books some years ago, and that the magazine continues to support them. It's an interesting list, with Christopher Beha, Ayelet Waldman, Paul Celan, Michael Robbins, and Emily St. John Mandel among the poets and writers.

Weird Fiction Book List

The online Weird Fiction Review asked me for a list of three favorite books from 2014, and I have obliged. You may find the list (with one extra) here. Thanks to David Davis for asking. 2014 was not an especially great year for reading at my house; instead, it seemed to be an entirely-too-great year for being away from home and wild ferrying trips. I am looking forward to a month off from book events with only some child-ferrying trips... and so shall start next year with some extra reading and rereading. Joy!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Thank you, Renea Winchester--from her Christmas book list

from Blog the Farm:

Marly Youmans grew up in the South and now makes her home “up North.” (but she returns to the mountains every chance she gets). She spent most of this fall in Jackson County, NC with her mother where she launched her latest book, Glimmerglass. Today I write about her previous book, A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage. I mention it only because I haven’t a moment to begin Glimmerglass, which is receiving wonderful reviews. Her words truly are spellbinding. From the first chapter the reader is drawn toward the story. Youmans possesses the talent of word-weaving that makes me proud to be an author. Winner of multiple awards, including the Ferol Sams Award, I strongly recommend giving A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage as a gift this year. Read an excerpt from the book here.

Renea Winchester just bought a house in western North Carolina, so I look forward to meeting her when I'm next there. And that would be some time in 2015...

She has a second book (stories! color! recipes! Southern life!) out, Farming, Friends, and Fried Bologna Sandwiches. She posts at

* * *

Monday, December 15, 2014

Glimmerglass reminder and lazy post!

Photo by artist-illustratoro-writer
Jackie Morris on twitter

No time to post--one sickie home from school, various events to attend, and I'm trying to stay healthy (-ish) and catch up on promised work. Here's a reminder for central New York region readers:

Glimmerglass reading
Writers Salon
Tuesday, December 16th
7:30 p.m.
CANO / The Wilbur Mansion
11 Ford St.
Oneonta, New York 13326


And here's the new Facebook page for the book, just updated. If you have a Facebook page yourself, please share--and if you don't, you can still send a link. Thanks to those of you who have read, written reviews in various places, purchased a book, or recommended it to others online or in the real!


Since I have no time today, I'll cobble together a few new comments from various elsewheres...

haunting tale of magic. If you enjoy you will love the flow of this, the poetry the heart.

said this [with image of jacket blurb] of Glimmerglass. Beautiful book. Loved my time lost in its pages.

RT When you are reading&find your dreams in a book. GlimmerGlass by This is how I feel

Started on Glimmerglass--odd and good, nods to Lewis Carroll, John Crowley--don't know where it's going.

Here is a wonderful gift to add to everyone's Christmas list this holiday season... Do not miss out on this literary treasure! 

Philip Cooper I absolutely loved Glimmerglass , enjoyed it more than any book I've read for a long time, and it has the most beautiful cover of course!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Snips of tinsel and gold

Life and trala: Here's the hot Facebook post of the morning: "Sometimes it's just great to be a teenage boy. Child no. 3 driving to school by himself for the first time (new license!) and last night pinned his opponent in the wrestling dual with Unatego--third meet, fourth pin. Rah!"

Highly important Yankee gossip (aka the weather): Everybody's talking weather after two snow days off from school... And evidently we are already at 25 inches for the season, which is supposedly 8 inches above where we would be normally at this time of year. I've been here for the last 15 years (plus an extra stray year earlier), and this is the slipperiest winter I can recall.

Life-in-letters: Next up event is December 16th, 7:30 at CANO, the Community Arts Network of Oneonta at The Wilbur Mansion on Ford Ave. Oneonta, New York. Here's a public invitation. Please send a link to friends in the area if you have any... If you're on Facebook, you can invite friends directly.

from the deployment series
Thank you x 3: To the many readers who have shared Glimmerglass and other recent books on facebook, twitter, and other sites--I've been very happy that you did so. Also thanks to some people who reviewed on Amazon or goodreads. I am grateful, as those things are critical for a writer now playing in the world of university and small presses. Even indie bookstores use Amazon for research. And thank you to those locals/regionals who turned out for recent events in Delhi and at the Fenimore and the Village Library and for the open house / book signing / open studio with painter Ashley Norwood Cooper, as a good crowd is much appreciated. It wouldn't have been nearly so much fun without you!

Marketing: I've just updated my Pinterest board, and it now gives a good, sweeping look at the new book, along with a lot of the gorgeous artwork by Clive Hicks-Jenkins and immaculate design by Mary-Frances Glover Burt. Please take a look by clicking the images above. And there are some interesting Amazon customer reviews and blurbs from writers and publishers here. Sample from a writer:
 Beautiful Inside and OutBy G. S. Thompson on December 2, 2014Format: HardcoverThis novel is beautiful inside and out. The story feels like a modern fairy tale with writing that dances on the pages in a way that can only be created by a spectacular writer. If you read this book you will know that Youmans is one of the most gifted writers living among us today.If you enjoy the twisting and building of words you will love this author's beautiful writing. If it can be called writing, because it seems more like she's pulling the whispers of angels down from a place we haven't been to yet and gently placing them on paper.
Here's good St. Nicholas of Myra,
who has just saved three boys
from the bad butcher--
now they need clothes
and a good book
for Christmas.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Next Glimmerglass event--

Writers Salon, December 16th 

Next up: a reading from Glimmerglass with The Community Arts Network of Oneonta. Here's an invitation on facebook from CANO. If you are on Facebook and/or have area friends who are, you and they may read, invite, accept the invitations, leave comments, etc. At any rate, please come!

Tuesday, December 16th
7:30 p.m. 
CANO / The Wilbur Mansion
11 Ford Ave.
Oneonta, New York

Thaliad review online

So glad to see that the Moira Richards review of Thaliad from the Cape Times has been reprinted on Not now, darling... I'm reading. Here's a clip:
One hundred pages of mesmerising iambic pentameter surge and swell, plunge and soar the journeying through the children’s grief and the rotting remains of what was our civilisation until at last (very) few of the seven triumph over danger and lingering evil and grow into adulthood to parent a new, post-apocalyptic future for humankind... Blank verse on grand scale, heroic imagery... 
See the whole thing here. And right below is a review of friend Lesley Wheeler's latest book!


Cover and interior art for both books by artist Clive Hicks-Jenkins of Wales. Design of Glimmerglass for Mercer by Mary-Frances Glover Burt. Design of Thaliad for Phoenicia by Elizabeth Adams. See tabs above for more information.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Guest post by poet Richard Nester
Open House

Thanks to everybody who turned out for yesterday's jolly open house / open studio / book signing, a joint event thrown by me and painter AshleyNorwood Cooper. Take a look at her paintings!

* * *

Guest at The Palace at 2:00 a.m.

And here's a post from poet Richard Nester. Richard has twice been a fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. He has published poetry in many journals, including Ploughshares, Callaloo, and Seneca Review. His first collection of poetry is Buffalo Laughter. You can find a post about the book here. Richard Nester is married to poet Robbi Nester; they have one son.

Fun in the Confessional
Kelsay Books, 2014
Confessionalism was all the rage when I started writing poetry in high school. Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath had made Time magazine. As a teenager with angst to burn, how could I not be hooked? Add history and the brew became even more potent. The Russians, Akhmatova and Mandelstam especially, lived dangerously and turned their private lives into vital political critiques. One of the first books of poetry that I purchased was Voznesensky’s Anti-worlds and the list of his translators provoked even more discoveries—Kunitz and Snodgrass. 
As a southerner, history was at my fingertips (literally if you consider the local library’s stock of Civil War lit). Faulkner said that every southern boy lives Pickett’s Charge over and over, and he wasn’t far wrong. There’s nothing like losing to get under one’s skin, an itch that can jump regional boundaries. After all, the Boston Red Sox were far more interesting before they won three of five World Series.
In fact, confessionalism had been around before M.L.Rosenthal coined the term and wrote that Lowell had gone “beyond customary bounds of reticence or personal embarrassment.” Poets had been relying on home-grown experiences, tearing into their lives and reconstituting the pieces on the
Richard Nester
printed page, for a long time. It is hard to imagine poetry more intimate than Emily Dickinson’s eyeball-to-eyeball addresses or Hopkin’s “terrible sonnets.” But there is a difference between their work and the confessionalism that Lowell created, a certain “slant”ness that keeps the reader on the other side like the glass and telephones separating inmates and visitors in prison dramas. Yeats too is a precursor as he walks “among schoolchildren” or prays beside his daughter’s crib. However, Lowell takes him to task for a calculation that he thinks verges on dishonesty as no one walks and prays “for exactly one hour.” Yeats had yet to commit himself to what Lowell called “the real skinny,” the raw truth in his view.
One problem with confessionalism in the raw is that hanging one’s dirty laundry—if I may seriously mix a metaphor—can lead to hurt feelings. Lowell got into some major personal dust-ups in which he had to invoke the supreme authority of art to save his skin. It’s not an alibi that persuades everyone, ask Elizabeth Bishop, in that it merely attempts to erase the distinction between poetry and gossip. Lowell’s poem “Dolphin” is a gloss on the emotional armor it takes to be an out-and-out confessionalist (or is it out-and-outing?)


My Dolphin, you only guide me by surprise,
forgetful as Racine, the man of craft,
drawn through his maze of iron composition
by the incomparable wandering voice of Phedre.
When I was troubled in mind, you made for my body
caught in its hangman’s knot of sinking lines,
the glassy bowing and scraping of my will . . .
I have sat and listened to too many
words of the collaborating muse,
and plotted perhaps too freely with my life,
not avoiding injury to others,
not avoiding injury to myself—
to ask compassion . . . this book, half fiction,
an eelnet made by man for the eel fighting—
my eyes have seen what my hand did.

Is that an allusion to Yeats “walked and prayed” I hear in Lowell’s “sat and listened”?
I felt a certain Lowellian spirit hovering over me recently as I moved toward completion of a poem that both named a name and arose as a meditation on an academic moment.

Facing Facts

My son’s Soc. text is full of strange fish,
commonplaces no less exotic for being familiar.
Take the principle of least interest
Now there’s a gloomy little butterfly of truth,
the plot of Alfie or Maugham’s Of Human Bondage,
alive on every teenage date I ever had. It says 
the less you love the more you run the show.
I read the postulate aloud and right away
my son said “Emily”—ouch. 
Who of us would want to live that way, 
but we do. Houdini stepping into the straitjacket
and staying there.

Richard Nester
Well, I’m not recommending my poem for inclusion in the next Norton Anthology, but perhaps you can see the similarities between its situation and Lowell’s “Dolphin.” It describes what I take to be a serious human problem, and I thought about posting it on my Facebook page. However, there’s my son and his former girlfriend to consider. I could, of course, invent a name besides “Emily,” but there’s a perfection to that name that my poor invention cannot surpass. In any case, the poem won’t appear anywhere until I’ve asked my son about it. Though I don’t plan on giving him artistic control.
Contact with younger poets has given me new perspectives on confessionalism. Denise Weuve at a “spoken word” reading said that her second book was less “confessional” than her first, a movement that had been predicted by a mentor as something that would occur naturally as she got early adolescent issues off her chest. This perspective is common, but I think demeans confessionalism as a strategy for making poetry. Confessionalism is more durable and more broadly useful than that and also less psychoanalytic.
Other perspectives have given me more fertile understandings. During a sojourn at the Los Angeles Catholic Worker, I came to know a poet who washes dishes at their skid row kitchen, Arnal Kennedy. Arnal writes poems about religious faith that have the same fire one finds in Hopkins, but he covers other subjects as well from street encounters, to battlefield memoirs, to love affairs. Astonished by the range of experience in his book You Woke Me in the Dark, I asked him “how many lifetimes” he had had. His reply was that he found first person to be the most compelling point of view and used it even when the experience wasn’t his own or had been fictionalized. I suddenly felt very naïve, a victim of Lowell’s “real skinny” dictum. “Real” might just as well mean “compellingly told.” So I now have another tool in my confessional toolkit as well as another dodge. Oh, that’s not about you, I just made it up. Or put another way, perhaps the confessional version of Yeats’ golden bird from “Sailing to Byzantium” is not keeping “a drowsy emperor awake” so much as preventing a bored priest from nodding off. Why couldn’t I have discovered lying sooner?

Friday, December 05, 2014

Hodgepodge soup

Ashley Norwood Cooper!
next event
2-5 this Sunday at 114 Lake St., Cooperstown
Book signing and open studio with Ashley Norwood Cooper. Books (various of mine plus a little catalogue of the deployment series), monoprints, paintings from this series and the prior cut-away houses series, beaujolais nouveau and wine and goodies till everything runs out!

favorite Glimmerglass review of the week (from Amazon, by a novelist) 
***** Beautiful Inside and Out By G. S. Thompson on December 2, 2014 Format: Hardcover This novel is beautiful inside and out. The story feels like a modern fairy tale with writing that dances on the pages in a way that can only be created by a spectacular writer. If you read this book you will know that Youmans is one of the most gifted writers living among us today.If you enjoy the twisting and building of words you will love this author's beautiful writing. If it can be called writing, because it seems more like she's pulling the whispers of angels down from a place we haven't been to yet and gently placing them on paper. Here's another suggestion: Get two copies of this book because you'll want to share it, but you'll be reluctant to ever let your copy go.

picture at upper right
That's Ashley Cooper's rather odd pooch, Peach, who has shoved his head into a number of her paintings--one Christmas Eve, he wolfed down a bag of chocolate-covered espresso beans that were under the tree, and then spent the night running from the house to Otsego Lake aka Glimmerglass like an insane boomerang that simply can't quit.

new page for Glimmerglass
While I have a page on this site for Glimmerglass, I started one yesterday on Facebook as well, which you may find right here. The page is set on "public," so anyone may visit.

book recommendation
This year has been one in which I haven't read nearly as much as I would like, and have traveled more than I would wish for many reasons. But I just read Otfried Preussler's (1923-2013) delicious Krabat and the Sorceror's Mill (The New York Review Children's Collection.) Like all the best children's books, there's no upper age limit on the person who might like it. This tale of Krabat's imprisonment along with other boys and young Krabat and the Sorceror's Mill contains richness and mystery, and powers of friendship and love that battle--one kind of magic against another--against the darkness of the Master. Though I never read the book as a child, I experienced in reading it now that wonderful, light-drenched immersion in a story that happens so often for passionate readers in childhood. Here's a great tribute to the book from Chris Kubica, who did read the book as a boy (and who now lives in Chapel Hill, where I have moved and lived three times and thought that I would live for good, B. P. N.* His drawing is on the cover.)
men moves as quickly as time in the demonic mill. Bildungsroman and fairy story,

*Before polar North. You knew that, right?

the start of the story
It was between New Year's Day and Twelfth Night, and Krabat, who was fourteen at the time, had joined forces with two other Wendish beggar boys. Although His Most Serene Highness the Elector of Saxony had passed a law forbidding vagabonds to beg in His Most Serene Highness's lands (but luckily the justices and those in authority would often turn a blind eye), the boys were going from village to village in the country around Hoyerswerda, dressed as the Three Kings from the East. They wore straw crowns on top of their caps, and one of them, little Lobosch from Maukendorf, who was playing the part of the King of the Moors, blackened his face with soot every morning. He walked proudly at the head of the little procession, bearing the Star of Bethlehem, which Krabat had nailed to a stick.

remembered quote while thinking of Krabat
“I believe there is no part of our lives, our adult as well as child life, when we’re not fantasizing, but we prefer to relegate fantasy to children, as though it were some tomfoolery only fit for the immature minds of the young. Children do live in fantasy and reality; they move back and forth very easily in a way we no longer remember how to do.” -Maurice Sendak